Best Drawing Supplies: Art Materials For Beginners

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

If you admire an artist’s work, you want to know how they did it, right? Perhaps there’s a magic formula that only professional artists know. Maybe it’s the kit list? If only you knew the best drawing supplies to buy.

This article is about my personal kit. These are the art materials I’ve been using to create my detailed pencil drawings for the last 20+ years. Use it as a starting point or to supplement your existing kit. This is everything – no trade secrets!

Before we start can I just say, please don’t penny-pinch. Buy the best art supplies you can afford. Drawing is the cheapest art form out there and the outlay is so modest, even for the best brands, that cutting corners to save a few pennies is a false economy.

"Heat and Dust" a pencil drawing of a white rhino by Kevin Hayler
“Heat and Dust” A White Rhino Drawn With Mechanical Pencils

I began drawing with Derwent Graphic pencils, and some years later I experimented with Pentel mechanical pencils and didn’t look back. Now I use a combination of the two.

Now let’s jump in and discuss my recommended tools.

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links I earn from qualifying purchases and sometimes earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. I am an Amazon Associate among others. I only recommend trusted sites.

The Best Drawing Pencils

Kevin Haylers pencil kit
My best drawing pencils

Derwent Graphite Pencils

“What pencils do you use?” – It’s the first question anyone asks me. Enthusiasts are obsessed with pencil grades as if it holds the key to success.

It’s not quite that simple. Beginners want to know the pencil grades without realizing that the grading system is not universal. An HB pencil in one brand is not the same tone as an HB in another.

These posts answer your questions in full detail:

When I make suggestions, I’m referring to the pencils I use personally, namely Derwent graphic pencils and Pentel mechanical pencils, and not other brands.

So why choose Derwent pencils?

I initially chose Derwent pencils because they are an old established brand, high quality, and made here in Britain, where I live. They are easily obtainable and sold individually, in most art stores.

Buying single replacements is essential. You will never use a whole pencil set. You will have a favorite selection and buy them repeatedly.

You can use any leading brand you like, it doesn’t really matter, the key is to stick with one brand of quality drawing pencils and get used to them.

After a while, the grades will become second nature and you’ll know which grade does what.

My usual Derwent selection includes 9H, 4H, 2H, HB, B, and 3B pencils.

I seldom require anything else. In fact, I rarely use the softer pencils anymore. Instead, I use my Pentel mechanical pencils for the darker tones. Why?

  • Softer graphite pencil leads are not compatible with the softer Pentel Hi-Polymer leads. They don’t blend easily and the surface becomes greasy and dull.
  • Softer Mechanical leads are less shiny than their regular pencil counterparts

Read this post: 9 Ways to Stop Pencil Shine in a Drawing and Save Your Work!

asian elephant and her calf. A graphite pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
An early work using Derwent drawing pencils

Perhaps the only surprise in my list might be my inclusion of a 9H but it’s very useful.

The lead is so hard that it leaves a barely noticeable mark. Held lightly and at an angle, it removes the whiteness from the paper and can be applied over other grades without losing any detail.

It’s also a handy tool should you decide to score the paper. Scoring is a technique I rarely use nowadays, it’s a high-risk technique to make a super sharp line.

This post will tell you everything: How to Draw White Lines in a Pencil Drawing: Do This…

For example, if you wish to draw individual hairs, you can draw them using the 9H.

The point is so hard that you score the surface of the paper as you press down. This must be done at the preliminary outline stage.

Later, as you are shading, your pencil will glide over the groove and leave a sharp line.

It’s brilliant when it works, and an irreparable mess when it doesn’t.

I’ve largely abandoned the method in favor of using a battery eraser.

3 alternative pencil brands of equal quality – Best Pick:

Drawing courses are a great way to learn. This Basics course by has over 73,000 students!

https://www.dickblick.com

Pentel Mechanical Pencils

Most of my drawings in recent years have been drawn, almost exclusively, with Pentel mechanical pencils.

They offer me so much control, I can draw insane detail. That’s both a plus and a minus.

Read these posts for the whole explanation:

Now I can draw the wrinkles inside the wrinkles with absolute precision. The major drawback is it’s harder to draw fast and loose.

I use 0.3mm leads with grades, 2H, HB, B, and 2B.

The smallest 0.3mm leads only go as dark as 2B but I seldom wish or need to go any darker.

It takes some time to get used to drawing with mechanical pencils, the leads snap easily, but I love using them. The lead glides smoothly over the paper and it’s easy to erase and as permanent as regular drawing pencils.

I suppose the only hiccup is the initial outlay. Good quality mechanical pencils are a little pricey.

You can start with cheaper ones (still very good) and upgrade slowly. That’s what I did.

Family life. A mechanical pencil drawing of a family of elephants by Kevin Hayler
“Family Life” Drawn with Pentel mechanical pencils

You will need a set of 4, one pencil holder for each pencil grade. By default, the initial purchase will have HB leads supplied so you can empty them into one pencil holder and fill the rest with 2B, B, and 2H refills.

I buy my refills online as my local stationers and art suppliers seldom stock the whole range.

I order more B’s than H’s. I get through them quicker.

Make sure you have at least one pencil with a spare fine wire. You’ll need it for cleaning the end nozzle. Without one, you will have a devil of a time removing the broken leads when they get stuck.

In theory, your pencil holders will last for years but I do tend to drop mine quite often. The nibs are delicate and once they’re damaged they’re useless, you’ll have to buy another one.

As with graphite grades, the mechanical leads are not universal. Stick with one recognized brand and you can’t go wrong.

Two alternative top quality mechanical pencil brands:

The Best Drawing Paper

Daler-Rowney Drawing Paper Selection
Daler-Rowney Cartridge Paper

Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge

Your choice of sketching paper will change over time. You’ll be as happy as Larry with your favorite brand until one day you find an alternative and boom, it’s out with the old and in with the new.

Presently I use Daler-Rowney heavyweight cartridge paper. It’s not pure white, it’s a very soft off-white, which is more pleasing to my eye.

Until a few years ago, I used a creamier cartridge paper but the tint scanned as a light grey. I loved the warmth the color gave my originals but it was an absolute pain when it came to printing.

This post covers everything I’ve learned about printing over the years: How to Make Prints of Your Art: A Complete Printing Guide (2023)

I needed a skilled technician to remove the background grey without losing the subtlety of my original drawing. I changed paper and I’m better off now.

The Daler cartridge paper has a slight tooth which enables me to create various textures. My blacks are richer while my lights remain smooth. I love the way the grain gives the darks an extra ‘zing’.

I get a more pronounced grain when I draw on a harder surface. At the moment I’m using a sheet of acrylic as a drawing board but you can use the smooth side of a sheet of hardboard.

There are many choices of paper, read this: What is The Best Paper for Graphite Pencil Drawing?

When you draw on a softer surface, for instance with a sheet of paper underneath, the tooth will be much less pronounced. Bear that in mind if you want to make a grainier effect.

I’ve also enjoyed using a Daler fine-grain cartridge paper. It’s a lighter weight of paper with a barely noticeable tooth.

Baby donkey mechanical pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
“About Turn” Drawn with mechanical pencils on
Daler fine-grain cartridge paper

If I lived in the States I would use Strathmore drawing pads. They are renowned for their quality drawing paper. Unfortunately, they are more difficult to find here in the UK.

Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Pads

Strathmore pads are available in various sizes and weights (thickness) and it is confusing. I would advise you to avoid the 60lb sketch pad. I’m not sure if it is archival, it is certainly too thin to use comfortably.

The Best Erasers

Selection of the best erasers for drawing
The best erasers

I use 4 types of erasers, all for different reasons. They are:

1. A Winsor and Newton Putty Eraser

I tend to use either Winsor and Newton or Daler-Rowney kneadable erasers. They’re interchangeable really. I don’t think one is particularly better than the other. I buy the most readily available.

I have noticed that both get significantly softer and easier to ‘squish’ as the temperature rises. When it’s cold outside they are barely kneadable at all.

Recently I bought a Faber-Castell kneaded eraser which was much softer and remains malleable even in cooler conditions. Plus it comes in a handy plastic box which means it doesn’t pick up dust and grit in your pencil case.

Faber-Castell Kneadable Eraser

Kneadable erasers are great at removing graphite without damaging the drawing paper, and they leave very few crumbs behind. I use them less and less for precision erasing. There are other more effective ways.

If you need a comprehensive guide, read this: Best Erasers for Drawing: The 9 Eraser Types for Artists

2. A Jakar Battery Eraser

This little tool was a game-changer for me. Now I wouldn’t be without it.

It gives me absolute control over my work. There are very few mistakes I can’t correct and no limit to the detail I can create.

If you are not familiar with these gadgets it’s a handheld battery-powered eraser ‘pen that spins a small rubber insert at very high speed.

If you sharpen the nib to a point using sandpaper, it’s possible to draw the finest white lines imaginable. Now I can dot in the highlight of an eye, and if I get it wrong, I can pencil over the mistake, and do it all over again.

Before I found this gadget, it was almost impossible to restore the white of the paper. Now it’s a breeze.

I use the cheapest battery eraser on the market, not because it’s the cheapest but because it works so well. It’s made by Jakar and costs about $5 – $6 (£4 – £4.50). I tried the Derwent model but I found it lacking.

The Jakar eraser pen is very basic. You press the button and it spins. There are no settings, controls, or choice of rubber nibs. It’s a comfy size and feels nice to hold.

It’s a pity the colors are so revolting but you can’t have everything.

There are fancier mains-operated models but I can’t see why I would need one. A battery-powered eraser is perfect for me because I draw mostly outside. Plus if I need a new one, it costs next to nothing to replace.

If you don’t use one yourself, I urge you to try one out. Remember to buy plenty of spare rubber tips. You get through them quickly.

3. A Tombo Mono Zero Eraser Pen

This is an extruded piece of rubber held within a plastic pen and works like a propelling pencil.

I use the Tombo mono zero which is the thinnest eraser of the range and I use it to erase finer lines.

I can make crisp clean lines with a sharp edge and remove gradations of ‘lead’ with a blunter nib. It’s useful for simulating fur.

If I need a sharp edge I slice the nib with a blade.

4. Blu-Tack Poster Putty

Last but by no means least, I use Blu Tack extensively. This is very handy stuff indeed.

I don’t use it to rub out exactly, I use it more to dab at the paper which lifts off the ‘lead’.

Blu-Tack is far more effective than a putty eraser at removing targeted areas of your drawing. It kneads better, to a finer point and ‘lifts’ off more.

Use Blu Tack as a fantastic eraser

I use it constantly in my drawing process. Newer Blu-Tack ‘lifts’ cleanly, but, I always keep some stumps of older well-used and greyer Blu-Tack precisely because they lift less. The erasing is more subtle.

Another great trick is to roll a knob of Blu-Tack across some pencil shading. The random patterns it creates can look amazing. Try it for simulating rock textures or tree bark.

I explain here: How to Draw Texture in Pencil: 7 Tips for Realistic Results

The Best Easels

I love my easel. It’s a lightweight aluminum field easel made by Frank Herring and Sons here in the UK.

  • It’s portable
  • Strong
  • Stable
  • Versatile
  • Affordable

I’ve had my current easel for the last 10 years and the earlier model for 10 years before that.

I particularly like the broad U-shaped backrest which holds my drawing board firmly in place. It’s much more stable than the standard field easels you see with a central bar.

The Herring easel is also super lightweight at only 1.4kg. It’s perfect for use outdoors. The frame is sturdy which means on breezy days you can anchor it with a center weight if needs be.

I simply hang a heavy bag from the middle slide bar. Uneven ground is no problem. The legs are fully adjustable and so too is the positioning of the backrest.

You can use it upright, as a table, or at any angle in between. Whatever floats your boat. I use it everywhere, indoors and out. When it’s not in use, I fold it up and store it out of the way.
.
On top of all that, there are custom accessories available too, such as the 12-inch (30cm) and 18-inch (45cm) extension bars and a large paint/pencil tray.

The Versatile Easel is a winner.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can get this easel anywhere else other than from the company itself. If I couldn’t get hold of one I’d buy a French Easel.

A traditional French easel is a box with legs. It is sturdy and has a tray for your art materials. It’s made of wood so it’s heavier.

Traditional French Easel – A Good Choice

A French Box easel is especially good if you use soft pastels or watercolors. The storage is a Godsend outdoors.

The Best Pencil Sharpeners

Various pencil sharpeners ror artists
Various pencil sharpeners

What can you say about sharpening a pencil?

More than you think but please, NEVER at a dinner party.

Cheap Standard Pencil Sharpener

Of course, go and buy a cheap sharpener, why not? As long as the blade is sharp they do the job. If you want to buy something fancier, go for it, but in my opinion, electric pencil sharpeners are unnecessary  There is no right or wrong.

Pencil Sharpeners

A Craft Knife

Some people prefer to use a craft knife because they like to draw with a longer lead. This is practical for harder pencils, but less so for the softer ones.

Be sure to slice at a shallow angle along the shaft by starting well back from the top, and avoid cutting at a steeper angle nearer the tip. It doesn’t work as well.

Be careful and use a new blade, it’s easy to misjudge the whittle. That’s a phrase I never thought I’d say. Where’s my life going?

Superfine Sandpaper

Broken leads are a pain. Occasionally your pencil will be shattered along its entire length.

If you are fed up with wasting whole pencils that way (or you’re a tight-arse!) super-glue the leads back in to save yourself the hassle of getting new ones.

Believe it or not, mechanical pencils will need sharpening too.

Get yourself the finest sandpaper. I use ‘Wet and Dry’ which is a fine-tooth sanding paper.

I cut it into strips and tack it to my drawing board. Alternatively, get one of those sandpaper sharpeners.

Hand-held sandpaper pencil sharpener

It’s used for both types of pencils but for different reasons.

I use it with my graphite pencils to maintain a sharp needlepoint and with my mechanical pencils to make a beveled edge

I resharpen my graphite pencils with a simple twist on the sandpaper after every few strokes. I do it on auto-pilot, it’s become a habit, like a reflex action.

By contrast, I swipe my mechanical pencils diagonally across the sandpaper.

The sloping nib acts in two ways. The flat plane is good for even shading, while the top edge is razor-sharp for the finest imaginable lines.

That’s everything you probably never wanted to know about sharpening a pencil.

The Best Blending Tools

Pencil blending tools
My pencil blending tools

I don’t use blenders half as much as I should. I tend to bog myself down with perfectionist cross-hatching that serves no real purpose at all. Why do I do that to myself? Dunno.

Feather Blending Brush

I have a fan brush for blending the softest of greys in larger areas. The hair is so soft and the effect so subtle, that it can be difficult to gauge the effect. Sometimes it’s only when you rub something out that all becomes apparent.

Tortillions and Stumps

I hardly ever use paper tortillions or blending stumps and I don’t know why I’ve neglected them.

A paper blending stump is the chunkier version and suitable for smudging larger areas while a tortillion is much thinner and used for more controlled blending.

A handy set of stumps with a sander I found on Amazon

My personal style of drawing has evolved towards adding too much detail so in an attempt to switch mindsets I have recently tried to change my approach and started to blend more.

My last few drawings have been sketchier and my best attempt so far is ‘Best Foot Forward’

Best foot forward. A pencil drawing of a baby elephant by Kevin Hayler
“Best Foot Forward” A pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Whatever you do, please refrain from using your finger to smudge the paper. That’s a recipe for disaster. Your smudges will look ‘dirty’ and besides that, there is a high chance of permanently staining your paper with a greasy finger.

Useful Drawing Accessories

Mahl stick, loupe, cello bags, pencil extender
Loupe, Mahl stick, Cello bags, Pencil extender.

Cellophane

I work outside and in front of the public most of the time, so I could lose my work in any number of ways. To limit the chance of disaster I cover my drawing in a clear A3 cellophane wrapper called a Cello bag. They are the peel-and-seal type, mostly used to display prints and cards.

I slip my drawing inside, Blu-Tack it to my drawing board, and cut out a hole where I intend to draw.

This works for me because my work is meticulous and slow and I can concentrate on one area at a time.

The advantages are many:

  • It stops your hand from smudging the paper,
  • It’s transparent so both you and the public can see the whole picture,
  • It guards against people thoughtlessly touching the drawing,
  • Prevents you from squashing insects on the paper,
  • Saves the day when you feel the first drops of rain.

Simple idea eh?

Read these posts for more ideas:

A Mahl Stick ( ..a what?)

The name for an artist’s armrest, or prop, is a mahl stick. It’s a pole with a padded ball on top.

You don’t really need a fancy one, I use a long ruler or you could use a piece of dowel.

I use one because I mostly work upright from an easel. I need support to steady my hand and prevent my hand from smudging the paper. I lean the ruler on the top edge of my drawing board and rest my hand away from the surface.

An artist’s mahl stick is nice to have

A Pencil Extender

Why throw away short pencils when you can use them to the last stump? For a few pennies, you can get a pencil extender and save the last quarter of every pencil.

Pencil Extenders

Magnifying Loupe

In my efforts to overdo things, I make use of a 5x magnifying glass called a loupe.

I saw a guy in Thailand using one of these things many years ago and thought I’d try one out myself. I’ve been using one ever since. It’s the main reason my work has become so detailed. I can see far too much.

5 x Folding Magnifier Loupe (Linen tester) for seeing the small details

It saves me from having to enlarge the image. I can hold the loupe over a 6 x 4 photo in one hand while I’m drawing with the other.

Just be careful using it on a sunny day. I’ve set fire to my photo more than once!

These are my essential drawing materials::

Beginning Drawing Atelier – An Instructional Sketchbook: Written by Juliette Aristides. This drawing book serves as an inspirational reference book, workbook, and sketchbook, all in one. It’s the perfect book for beginners.

Best Drawing Supplies: Final Thoughts

You can always spot beginner artists, they are the ones with too much kit. If you are just beginning, you don’t need as much as you think.

These art supplies are the ones I use myself. They work for me.

I recommend them to beginners and young artists who need help making a good start. You will, in due course, develop your own style and techniques, and your drawing kit will change over time. We all do things in our own way.

Buy the best pencils and the best paper. That’s your priority. You will not be able to develop your drawing skills and reach your true potential without the right tools.

Buy quality art supplies and get to know them well. There’s no need to go on a spending spree, buy only what you need.

Before you buy a set of pencils, can you easily replace your sketching supplies? There is nothing worse than buying a box set only to realize that individual replacements are hard to find.

What does your local art supply store stock? Check them out. It’s far nicer to shop locally and browse in-store with knowledgeable staff.

Just remember that buying the right art supplies will help you, but they are in no way a substitute for hard work. It takes a long time to hone your skills. Keep at it, and don’t give up. It’s all about practice. 


If you need more help, then I urge you to check out Dorian Iten on Proko.
His drawing lessons are at an affordable price


This is how I made a living for over 20 years. You can too, simply copy what I did – No hidden secrets

Selling art made simple digital guide for starting a small art business

If You Want to Sell Your Art

Check this out!

Psst…it’s only $12.99!


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The artist and Author Kevin Hayler


Hi, my name’s Kevin and I’m a real person!
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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